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Former Seattle U star that turned down the NBA still coaching at North Kitsap

Jim Harney's athletic journey began at Seattle Prep, where he was a stand-out basketball and baseball player in the 50's.

POULSBO, Wash. — In 1958, the Seattle University men's basketball team made headlines when they advanced to the National Championship game. 

Seattle U, led by NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, lost to Kentucky in the finals. Nearly seven decades later and one of the stars from that Seattle U team is still living out his hoops dreams.

Over the past decade the North Kitsap boy's basketball team has become one of the top teams in the state. Head coach Scott Orness has won more than 300 games, eight straight league titles, and 54 straight games at home. He also coached North Kitsap to their first state title in 2020.

 "I get goose bumps just thinking about it and, you know, I think it was a week later everything shut down in the state. COVID, you know, shut down all the schools and so just to have the opportunity was a blessing," Scott Orness said. 

Scott's son, Cade, was an eighth grader that season and is now one of the top players in the state. 

"One thing I always try to do when I get on the court is make everyone around me better," Cade said. 

"The way he sees the game. I would say I can just completely trust him on the floor, his decision making," Scott Orness said. 

Last season, Cade broke the school's single-season assist record. This season he joined the prestigious 1,000 career points club, and he's only a junior.

"He's an all-time great for North Kitsap, there's no doubt about that," said assistant coach Jim Harney. 

Coming from the all-time great, that's high praise. 

"Coach Harney is the greatest," said Cade Orness.

"I mean, we've had great success, but I'm still in the shadow of coach Harney. I don't mind it at all," said Scott Orness.

So, who is this 87-year-old assistant coach that quietly sits on the bench?

Jim Harney's athletic journey began at Seattle Prep, where he was a stand-out basketball and baseball player in the 50's.

In 1955, Harney went to Seattle University. 

In 1958, he was captain of the Seattle U team that made a historic run to the national championship game.

Harney said he remembers it like it was yesterday. 

"My gosh, the bumps are coming up right now. Oh it was so phenomal, he was there, both years," said Jim Harney.

"He" is 11-time NBA All-Star Elgin Baylor, who was Harney's teammate at Seattle U.

"He is absolutely the greatest of all time. He was further ahead of the game than anybody has ever been ahead of the game," said Harney.

After losing to Kentucky in the National Championship Baylor was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers.

But he wasn't alone, the Lakers also wanted Jim Harney. 

"I got a letter from Minneapolis Lakers, they wanted me to come for a try-out and if I were to make the team, I would make $3,000," said Harney. But Harney said no thanks. "I was already signed at Seattle Prep to coach for $4,000 and teach five classes and coach three sports."

Harney took the big money at Prep and never looked back. 

"How that life could have been could not surpass the life that I've had and coaching," said Harney.

Harney started coaching at Seattle Prep in 1959. 

After nine years at Prep, Harney spent four years at the University of Puget Sound and then moved his family to Poulsbo to take a coaching job at North Kitsap in 1973.

"Well, it's like I died and went to heaven," said Harney.

Harney was head coach for 24 years and even coached his sons. 

"I think just helping kids is the main thing," said Harney.

And that's why he's never left the game. Harney has been an assistant coach for the past 26 years.

"You're not coaching basketball; you are coaching people," said Harney.

Sixty-five years after he first started, he's still making an impact. 

"He has a phrase that he talks about. He brings it up a lot and I love it. It's lose yourself in the win. And so, you know, you see our team coming together and just, you know, losing their egos, checking their egos at the door, all that and guys getting excited about just winning and losing themselves in that," said Harney.

Harney grew up during the Great Depression. He said it made him tough and taught him to appreciate the little things. He's a proud father of four, with six grandkids, and six great grandkids.

He's won more games and titles than he can count, but more importantly, Jim Harney has found joy in the gym.

"Everything has just come together so well. Here I am, you know in the late stages of the 80s, but I know I'll make a hundred, just know I will," said Harney.

Jim Harney didn't win a national title in 1958, but he did win one in 2006. Harney was part of a team that won the 70-and-over division of a senior men's national basketball tournament in Florida.

Besides coaching, Harney is still very active playing sports and said that's a big reason why he will hit 100.

Watch: High School sports coverage on YouTube

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